Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani issued a decree on Monday to release 400 “hardcore” Taliban prisoners as a condition to initiate peace talks with the jihadi terror group, Reuters reported.
“It is signed,” a presidential palace source told Reuters on Monday evening of the decree. Ghani’s official action to free the jihadi prisoners comes two days after the Loya Jirga – a tribal Afghan assembly – agreed that they should be released.
The president had initially refused to release the 400 Taliban members because he said their crimes were “very serious” and that he could not make any decision to release them by himself, Afghanistan’s Khaama Press reported on Saturday. Ghani then called for the Loya Jirga, “a traditional gathering of people’s representatives from all over the country,” to meet and decide on the prisoners’ release.
According to Reuters, the tribal assembly agreed to release the 400 prisoners in order to begin long-stalled peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Doha, Qatar, in the coming days.
The Taliban refuses to recognize the U.S.-backed Afghan government as legitimate and considers itself the true ruler of Afghanistan. To help resolve the dispute, the U.S. in February agreed to pull troops out of Afghanistan if the government and the Taliban worked toward peace talks by agreeing to mutual prisoner releases.
“[T]he Afghan government had earlier released 4,600 out of 5,000 Taliban prisoners as per the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in February,” Khaama Press noted, making Monday’s release of 400 jihadi prisoners the final batch.
According to the newspaper, “President Ghani said the other day that the Intra-Afghan dialogue will kick-off within three days after the 400 remaining Taliban prisoners are released,” meaning the Doha peace talks should start later this week.
The U.S. welcomes the latest Taliban prisoner release as a major step toward peace talks, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said in a Twitter statement on Sunday.
“We welcome the Afghan Loya Jirga’s declaration and President Ghani’s decision to sign the decree ordering the release of the remaining prisoners. With these bold steps, after 40 years of war, a historic opportunity for peace is now possible; one that benefits all Afghans and contributes to regional stability and global security,” Khalilzad wrote.
“In the next few days, we expect the completion of prisoner releases, then travel of the Islamic Republic team to Doha, and from there the immediate start of intra-Afghan negotiations. The parties will embark on a process to reach an agreement on a political roadmap and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire to end the Afghan war,” he added.